Earlier this week in the Tana Delta, Kenya, government officials flew in from Nairobi to discuss plans of a new sugar and biofuels project which intends to strip the Tana River Delta, on the Indian Ocean coast, of 20,000 hectares of wetland, to replace it with sugar cane.
The total cost of the project has been estimated at around $350 million and comes as a response to government hopes of modernization in the area, and an attempt to reduce Kenya’s annual 200,000-tonne sugar deficit.
The support shown by the government has come under sharp criticism from local pastoralists, who risk running out of grazing land, and conservationists who are concerned that such extensive land clearance will greatly damage local vegetation and species biodiversity – including rare sharks, birds, reptiles, grasses, forests and mango trees.
Britain’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have filed a case against the project in court as they fear 350 local species will be threatened.
Project backers, however, are stimulated by the prospect of 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, the reduction of the importation bill and new investments in the area.
According to the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute, in Kenya’s sole area of sugar production it costs $570 to produce one ton of sugar, whereas in Sudan and Egypt it costs between $240-290.
When commenting on these plans for the Tana Delta, Kenyan Nobel laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai stated ‘We cannot just start messing around with the wetland because we need biofuel and sugar’.
The Kenyan High Court ordered a temporary halt to the project earlier this month pending a judicial review of its environmental, social and cultural impact.